Category Archives: Uncategorized

Report from El Salvador

[Note, I wrote this originally as an op-ed but when the Wash Post passed on it, I decided to post it here.  I returned from El Salvador last night.]

San Salvador Copyright Ezra Rosser

San Salvador Copyright Ezra Rosser

The options available to the average young person in El Salvador are about as limited as the options available to the Salvadoran government is it struggles to deal with gang violence.  Both suffer from lack of money, lack of opportunities, and little reason for hope.  The young men and women braving the journey to the United States as well as those who decide to stay in their homeland confront a set of choices that should be seen, both in the United States and in El Salvador, as intolerable and inhumane.  They can go North, through Guatemala and Mexico to the United States, in which case, if everything goes perfectly, they will have a second class status in the United States and no real opportunity to see their families for possibly decades.  Or they can stay, struggling to get by on a couple hundred dollars a month and with the fear that their lives may be cut short.  And such fear is justified.

Security remains the most important issue in El Salvador more than two decades after a peace treaty was signed in 1992 that ended the country’s long civil war.  Guns are everywhere.  Men with shotguns and semi-official looking uniforms stand guard in front of nearly every formal business.  For those with money to buy a Big Mac or to go shopping elsewhere, shotguns are so ubiquitous that they eventually blend into the background.  It is a bit harder to ignore the hardened look of soldiers and police officers riding around in the back of pickup trucks, machine guns pointed outward, eyes scanning constantly, and fingers on the trigger.  When San Salvador was merely the third most dangerous city in the world, behind Tegucigalpa and Cuidad Juarez, the police presence was less marked and officers rested their guns in their laps, but as the city and the nation’s murder rate has soared, that has changed.

Although the rhetoric of the two major political parties, ARENA and FMLN, continues to be defined by the Cold War battle between capitalism and communism, when it comes to security, the current leftist government’s strategy with regard to the gangs is not that different from the mano duro, Iron Fist, approach of the right.  The gangs, most notably Mara Salvatrucha and Mara-18, have proven themselves capable of exerting their will against both political parties, the result of which is that the left has found itself in the uncomfortable position of having to embrace many of the law and order tactics long favored by the right.  When the FMLN candidate, Mauricio Funes, won the presidency in 2009 and by doing so ended decades of rule by ARENA, the country entered into a period in which it was briefly possible to imagine an alternative path forward.  But it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel and the government does not have any good options.  The previous government’s involvement in brokering a gang truce was remarkable but it is far less noteworthy that the current government has decided that the truce was a mistake and that the government won’t negotiate with “terrorists,” as they are starting to describe the gangs.  About the only thing remarkable is that the president had left for Cuba at this trying time and that the national guard is not being mobilized to a greater extent.  Given the way violence is impacting whole areas of the country and wide swaths of the country, it is hard to see what choices the government has other than confrontation.

I spend several months a year in El Salvador and truly I love the country.  And there are many things that are better about El Salvador than the United States.  It is a small but beautiful country.  To the south, the beaches are amazing and,

Copyright Ezra Rosser

Copyright Ezra Rosser

unlike the ocean near where I live in the United States, the water always has a perfect temperature.  In the north, rugged mountains dotted with small, picturesque, towns provide incredible views and a crisp, colder climate.  And San Salvador itself lies in the shadow of one of the country’s majestic volcanos.  But more important than the country’s natural beauty are the people.  Most of the people grow up, live, and die very close to where they were born, which can sound like something negative to people in the United States accustomed to leaving home at eighteen and never looking back.  But there is also something beautiful about always being near family, about going to one birthday party after another and knowing that you will see the same family members and friends again and again throughout life.  When my father-in-law died, his teacher from kindergarten showed up, as did his group of friends from third grade, his college friends, all his family, as well as countless others who also spent most of their lives in the same city.  No wonder that surveys regularly report that the people of El Salvador, despite being so poor and so plagued by violence, are among the happiest in the world.

Copyright Ezra Rosser

Copyright Ezra Rosser

I used to encourage people to come to El Salvador so that I could show them the country but unless Americans have the benefit of a local guide, I cannot in good faith advocate for such trips.  It just is too dangerous.  Among those safely ensconced in gated communities a common refrain is that the murder rate is misleading because it is “just” gang members killing gang members; in other words, “good” people are safe.  Not only does this form of denial about what is going on in the country dehumanize those people, often children, forced to join a gang, but it is a way of pretending that the violence is somehow removed from daily life in the country.  The recent gang-ordered bus strike, enforced through the random killing of bus drivers who defied the order by trying to do their jobs, not only generated a wave of international media attention but also highlights the extent to which the country is controlled, directly and indirectly, by the gangs and not the government.

It would be tempting to treat the problems in El Salvador as just another “bad things happening abroad” bit of news, but doing so ignores the significant ties between the United States and El Salvador.  At a formal level, the United States has asserted, ever since the Monroe Doctrine, its unique right to influence Latin America.  But at a less theoretical level, Salvadorans can be found throughout the United States and are living proof of the interconnectedness of the world today.  The violence in El Salvador has many spillover effects, in El Salvador and in the United States, and normalizing the insecurity by dismissing it as irrelevant to the United States is both short-sighted and morally wrong.  Much of what must be done must be done by the Salvadoran government and the Salvadoran people, but, to the extent that ramping up foreign assistance and providing legal status to those fleeing the violence can help, the United States can also play a role.  Whether for self-interested or humanitarian reasons, the Washington should act as well.

New Article: “Sustainability and Justice”

_DSC0022New Article / Book Chapter: Sarah Krakoff, “Sustainability and Justice,” in Rethinking Sustainability to Meet the Climate Change Challenge, Jessica Owley and Keith Hirokawa, eds., ELI 2015.  SSRN 2015.  Abstract below:

This chapter addresses the intertwined problems of global environmental degradation and extreme inequality and injustice. It examines two narratives within American environmentalism that unwittingly exacerbate unequal access to environmental privilege and perpetuate unsustainable patterns of resource consumption. These are the narratives of pristine places and environmental sacrifice zones. In Aspen and the roaring fork valley, the drive to preserve pristine places has imposed costs on low-income communities and immigrants while also disserving aspects of environmental protection. On the high altitude mesas of the four corners region, the designation of sacrifice zones has relegated thousands of Navajo and Hopi people to substandard living conditions to further the growth of far-away cities and the protection of off-reservation sites.

The chapter proposes that as we move forward, post climate change, with only a murky comprehension of how best to preserve remnants of the faultless non-human world, we should also recommit to weaving human communities and their just demands for equitable treatment into the picture. Otherwise, we risk defaulting to compartmentalized approaches to environmental protection, which will benefit only certain classes and strata of humanity. Instead of arriving at an equitable version of sustainability, we may find ourselves in a very hierarchical and rigid system of doling out environmental privileges and harms.

Note: this is a good chapter on environmental privilege and NIMBY practices when it comes to energy and natural beauty.

Today was also a good day.

Obergefell v. Hodges

Charleston Shooting

There is nothing that I can write here that others have not expressed in a better way and from a better position.  So below are some links but I did want to briefly note that the Charleston church shooting is a powerful reminder, if one was needed, that the civil rights movement is not complete and the struggle should not be treated as the struggle of (given my age) our parents’ and grandparents’ generations.  It isn’t just not over, but the most visible markers of structural racism are eerily similar to what they were at the height of the civil rights era: attacks on black churches and police violence directed against black people.  The less visible marker of concentrated, multi-generational poverty sadly also remains true for too many black families.

These issues are and are not far removed from law school and from the lives of law students.  For some students and many faculty members, particularly but not exclusively white students and faculty, the harms of racism can seem like something removed from the life of the law school.  Even the solidarity and fight against racism among socially committed folks can assume an overly academic feel.  But, of course, for some students, particularly black students, the country’s failings on civil rights are more immediate and personal.  Two years ago for the first time since I started teaching at my school, there was finally, in the language of the Supreme Court on affirmative action, a “critical mass” of vocal black students in my 1L Property class.  Far more than anything I could do from the front of the classroom, the students helped break down the racial distance that can exist even in very progressive law schools.  But even as these gaps are gradually narrowed, white people, myself included, continue to experience numerous unearned advantages, including a relatively greater sense of and experience of freedom from racial violence.  These are all obvious points but ones that sometimes are not admitted or are put on the back burner.

Finally, though I do not want this to take away from a focus on race, if more Americans traveled overseas, I think we as a society might be better positioned to recognize the craziness and evils associated with our gun policy.  I am teaching in Japan right now and think it would be hard to find a city the size of Kyoto that is as safe in the United States.  American exceptionalism when it comes to guns (like health care) should be matter of national shame not pride.

Conference Call-for-Papers Reminder and Twitter Social Media Note

First and most importantly, if you haven’t submitted a proposal in response to the call-for-papers for the  Spring 2016 conference, “Poverty Law: Academic Activism” to be held on Feb. 19-20, 2016 at Seattle University School of Law, please do so by the revised deadline of June 15!  It should be a great conference and, yes, we are trying to get people to commit early!  =)

Second, in hopefully the blog’s last expansion into social media for a while, the feed from this blog will now be available on twitter @ezrarosser.  A number of you did decide to join the facebook feed so while that doesn’t really let me know if you find that useful or not, I decided it was a sign I should provide a twitter option as well for the blog feed.

Photo Copyright Ezra Rosser 2015

Photo Copyright Ezra Rosser 2015

I will end this housekeeping post with a random, photo of a pre-social media sight from my summer teaching gig in Kyoto, Japan.  =)

Quick note: blog now on facebook

If your facebook feed is like mine, many, many of the posts you see are not cute kids, etc, but politics and stuff that looks a lot like work related posts.  I fought it for a while but realized I do end up clicking many of the links people post on facebook so there is now a “Poverty Law Blog” facebook page.  If you decide to “like” it, the blog posts will appear in your facebook feed: https://www.facebook.com/povertylawblog.  I haven’t decided if I “like” it or not but someone might find it useful.  =)

Duncan Kennedy is Retiring

This will be a bit of an unusual post because ordinarily I just post a link, but Harvard has made it official on their page, Duncan Kennedy is retiring.  So much of Duncan’s work relates to poverty that it is almost silly to list particular articles, but ones that stand out for me include:

  • Kennedy, Duncan M. Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy: A Polemic Against the System, A Critical Edition (NYU Press 2004, originally 1983)
  • Kennedy, Duncan M. “Neither the Market nor the State: Housing Privatization Issues” in A Fourth Way? Privatization, Property, and the Emergence of New Market Economies (G. Alexander & G. Skapska eds., Routledge, 1994).
  • Kennedy, Duncan M. “The Limited Equity Coop as a Vehicle for Affordable Housing in a Race and Class Divided Society,” 46 Howard Law Journal 85 (2002).
  • Kennedy, Duncan M. “The Responsibility of Lawyers for the Justice of their Causes,” 18 Texas Tech Law Review 1157 (1987).
  • Kennedy, Duncan M. “Cost-Benefit Analysis of Entitlement Problems: A Critique,” 33 Stanford Law Review 387 (1981).

But Duncan of course did more than just write, for many of us he was and is a fabulous mentor — supportive and challenging in the way that few mentors are.  On a personal note, I owe Duncan more than I can ever repay for his help getting me the best job in the world and for his continued support of my scholarship.

Recently I have become somewhat obsessed with how great a soccer player Messi is — I am a bit late to the game which means I have lots of old videos to watch in wonder — and for many of us on the left wing of progressive politics, Duncan is a somewhat similar towering figure, albeit in legal academia as opposed to soccer (or futbol!).  A true giant and a friend.

  • Law Journal 85 (2002).

(Self-serving post) New Article: “Destabilizing Property”

I have a new article that is about property theory as it relates to inequality and poverty.  Frankly, it is probably most of interest to those who teach property as well, but if it does nothing else, I hope it convinces people to read David Super’s A New New Property.  It may also go a bit too far in the direction of showing that I can be unreasonable.  Here it is:

New Article: Ezra Rosser, Destabilizing Property, forthcoming Connecticut Law Review.  Abstract below:

Property theory has entered into uncertain times. Conservative and progressive scholars are fiercely contesting everything it seems, from what is at the core of property to what obligations owners owe society. Fundamentally, the debate is about whether property law works. Conservatives believe that property law works. Progressives believe property could and should work, though it needs to be made more inclusive. While there have been numerous responses to the conservative emphasis on exclusion, this Article begins by addressing a related line of argument, the recent attacks information theorists have made on the bundle of rights conception of property. The Article goes on to make two main contributions to the literature. It gives a new critique of progressive property and, more fundamentally, shows how distribution challenges in property call for a third path forward. Conservative scholarship is scholarship for property, defending traditional views of property against the influence of new realist-inspired deconstruction. Progressive scholarship works with property, showing how doctrine supports expanding property law to reach those who would otherwise be excluded. But missing from this debate is the possibility that, instead of working for or with property, the rise in inequality and the calcification of advantages defined at birth of the current economic and legal environment calls for work against property. Expanding the range of answers to the broad questions being asked of property to include deliberately destabilizing property would add to the academic debate and to the possible policy responses to the emerging threat of oligarchy. Working for, with, and against property are all answers to the question of how to respond to the property crisis of our time, the problem of inequality. This Article seeks to give some content to the neglected against portion of the spectrum.

Self-serving post… to any law students on law review

Hello — on the off chance that there are any law student readers of this blog, I have a property theory / inequality article in the submissions process with law reviews and I would love to get a read.  My fingers are crossed for an acceptance.  =)  It is a follow up to an earlier property theory / race / inequality article.

Request for Proposals: “Understanding Socioeconomic Status and Online Privacy and Security”

Request for Proposals: “Understanding Socioeconomic Status and Online Privacy and Security” from the Digital Trust Foundation.  Overview below:

The Digital Trust Foundation has found that research and analysis of the online privacy experiences of low-SES populations are underrepresented in the public discourse, media coverage, and academic literature. To address this gap, the Foundation intends to fund (1) research into the privacy and security experience of low-SES people and (2) online privacy and security-related direct services and information dissemination to low-SES people. We anticipate entertaining proposals for projects of various sizes, with budgets in the range of $50,000 and $300,000.Exceptional projects with budgets outside this range may be considered.